Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte over the weekend said Italian movie theaters will be allowed to reopen on June 15 as coronavirus lockdown restrictions lift. However, it remains to be seen how many cinemas will actually be operational by then.
While it’s unlikely many of Italy’s roughly 4,000 screens will be active next month, the country’s distributors and exhibitors are busy gearing up for summer releases and finding creative solutions for moviegoing to resume.
“In order to open movie theaters, audiences need to feel safe and relaxed” says Andrea Occhipinti, who heads Italian distributor-producer Lucky Red and is also chief of national arthouse theater chain Circuito Cinema.
“As exhibitors, we need to understand how many people will actually go (to the movies),” Occhipinti adds, pointing out that if theaters operate under 30% capacity “it will be a bit complicated economically.”
The other crucial challenge for Italy’s arthouse circuit in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic — which hit Italy hard, with more than 31,000 deaths and Europe’s longest lockdown — is a scarcity of fresh product. There is a reluctance to scramble to release pricey indie titles in summer, historically a time when ticket sales at Italian movie theaters sag.
Meanwhile, to keep Italy’s theatrical audiences engaged, Lucky Red and Circuito Cinema have launched an innovative TVOD platform scheme called MioCinema. Audiences can pay €7 ($7.50) to watch a premium movie online, with 40% of the price of each ticket going to a now shuttered movie theater of their choice. The service launched Monday (May 18) with French director Ladj Ly’s “Les Miserables” among the hottest titles out of last year’s Cannes. Soon to follow are Julianne Moore-starrer “After The Wedding,” and Xavier Dolan’s “Matthias & Maxime.”
Occhipinti says that for the moment when movie theaters reopen, some titles on the MioCinema platform, such as “Les Miserables,” could also go the theatrical route since Italy’s traditional 105-day window between theatrical and other distribution forms is currently on hold.
But once things get back to normal the basic idea is titles will either go straight-to-video on MioCinema or be full-fledged theatrical releases and Italy’s window will be fully respected.
Upon restarting, movie theaters that form part of the circuit will still receive a share of the revenues on MioCinema’s straight-to-platform releases.
“The idea is not to make money from the platform, but to create an ecosystem for arthouse titles with movie theaters at its center,” Occhipinti notes.
Another new Italian TVOD platform for arthouse movies with a similar business model called IoRestoinSala (which roughly translates to “I stay in the movie theater”) will be launched Wednesday. The platform’s key partners include prominent Milanese exhibitor Lionello Cerri and Gianluca Farinelli, who heads the Bologna film archives, which run a small but important arthouse distribution circuit.
Elsewhere, as Italians await wide cinema reopenings, the big novelty is a nationwide outdoor initiative called Moviement Village, which is being launched with government support in roughly 200 arenas and drive-ins. Organizers led by Italy’s motion picture association ANICA are hoping to have Hollywood blockbusters at their disposal, such as Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” Nicky Caro’s live-action remake of “Mulan” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” alongside smaller Italian and European titles.
Antonio Medici, head of Italy’s Wild Bunch-owned indie BIM Distribuzione, says he is “in favor of summer arenas and interested in putting our movies there.”
“If ‘Tenet’ is confirmed in mid-July for Italy, then it will work for multiplexes,” as well as outdoor arenas, adds Occhipinti.
Meanwhile, though it’s still unclear when arthouse venues will be up and running, one arthouse venue that will soon be ready for business is the Cinema Visionario in Italy’s Northeastern city of Udine, hub of the recently canceled Far East Film Festival, which runs the venue year-round.
One of Visionario’s screening venues is being completely refitted with new seats and a safety distance device called ‘Butterfly.’
Starting in June, a 173-seater in the Visionario will be able to accommodate 105 viewers on new seats made of “anti-bacterial eco-leather” that will allow moviegoers to sit at a distance of at least 1.10 meters (more than 3.6 feet) between them. The seats will also have protective barriers installed between them in the shape of butterfly wings (pictured). The Cinema Visionario claims to be the first venue in the world to adopt this anti-coronavirus safety device.